No. 1 Penn State 23, No. 2 Iowa 14
#2 Iowa wrestling walked into the (literal) lion's den on Friday night, squaring off with #1 Penn State in yet another hotly-anticipated, record-attendance-setting showdown between the top two programs in college wrestling. It was the third straight year these programs have faced one another in a #1 vs #2 dual meet, though the first time Penn State has hosted the dual since 2018.
The gameplan for Iowa was simple to explain, albeit much harder to execute: dominate the lower weights, win some toss-ups in the middle weights, and hope the upper weights don't turn into a blue-and-white wipeout. Iowa achieved the first part of that plan, earning wins in three of the first four matches, highlighted by an 18-2 first period technical fall by #1 Spencer Lee at 125 lbs. Unfortunately, the one Iowa loss at the lower weights came at 133, where #1 Roman Bravo-Young grabbed a late pin. But Iowa still managed to hold its own in the middle weights, splitting 157 and 165.
Unfortunately, the Hawkeyes couldn't prevent the blue-and-white wave at the upper weights -- Penn State swept the final four matches, including a 22-7 technical fall by #1 Aaron Brooks at 184 and narrow wins in key matches at 197 and 285. All told, Penn State won six of ten matches in the dual and picked up five bonus points (a pin at 133 and a technical fall at 184).
The dual began well for Iowa, as it usually does when things kick off at 125 lbs, although in this case the dominant Spencer Lee win wasn't quite as dominant as it's been of late. Instead of extending his career-best six-match pinning streak, Lee had to settle for an 18-2 technical fall in a little over two minutes in the first period. Lee got taken down by surprise PSU starter Marco Vespa off the opening whistle, but quickly got a reversal and set to work taking Vespa on multiple trips to Tilt Town, earning four sets of four-point near fall points. Lee did try to turn Vespa for a pin on a few occasions, but was stymied by a few potentially dangerous calls by the official. It says a lot about Lee's otherworldly recent form when an 18-2 first period technical fall feels like a slight letdown, and yet... (He's still amazing.)
Unfortunately, the 5-0 lead that Iowa earned from Lee's win was given back to Penn State (with interest) at 133 lbs, where Roman Bravo-Young managed to cradle #17 Brody Teske for a pin with just 11 seconds left in the third period. RBY only had a 7-2 lead before that moment, too, so a simple decision win seemed in the offing; instead, Penn State picked up three extra points in the blink of an eye. Those extra points didn't make the difference -- Iowa still needed to get a win at the upper weights and/or get the win at 157 -- but they certainly stung. Worse, they should have been easy to avoid.
#2 Real Woods topped #4 Beau Bartlett 4-1 in one of the highest-ranked showdowns of the dual. Woods was the aggressor early and used a good shot and some (very) patient finishing to earn a takedown in the first period, before putting on a strong ride to finish the period on top. Woods tacked on an escape and a riding time point to finish off the victory after holding off any of Bartlett's offense in the final two periods. Overall, a solid win over a tough opponent. #7 Max Murin made it two wins in a row for Iowa with a matching 4-1 victory at 149. He put on a tough ride (over a minute) in the second period, then got an escape in the third and locked up his win with a smooth takedown late in the period. Very nice effort from Murin in that match.
The middle weights looked like toss-ups, and indeed Iowa and Penn State each earned a win at 157 and 165. Penn State got the W at 157 thanks to a 3-2 win from #9 Levi Haines. #15 Cobe Siebrecht showed some strong defense in fighting off several Haines shots, but couldn't fend off a slick attack in the third that led to the winning takedown. #13 Patrick Kennedy earned Iowa's fourth and final win of the dual meet at 165 in the longest match of the night -- it went the full seven minutes, plus a two-minute sudden victory period, and two thirty-second tiebreaker periods. The match was just 1-1 after sudden victory, though not for lack of trying -- both guys stayed near the center of the mat for the entire match and scrapped hard, with Kennedy stuffing a few good attacks from Facundo and getting his own deep attack (a cradle) improbably stuffed in sudden victory. In the tiebreaks, Kennedy went first and earned a quick escape in just four seconds Facundo opted against going down at all (he would have needed to escape in faster than four seconds in order to top Kennedy on the tiebreaker) and went neutral instead, but wasn't able to convert any attacks on Kennedy. It wasn't the prettiest win he'll ever record, but a tough win over a Top-5 opponent should give Patrick Kennedy plenty of confidence.
The final four weights were all Penn State, from beginning to end. #15 Nelson Brands did put in a game effort at 174, though #1 Carter Starocci also seemed oddly passive and willing to coast to a simple 2-1 victory as well. Brands and Starocci traded escapes in the second and third periods, with Starocci's minute-plus of riding proving to be the only difference between the two on the score sheet. 184 more than made up for what 174 lacked in offense, with #1 Aaron Brooks putting on a takedown clinic in battering Iowa back-up Drake Rhodes for a 22-7 technical fall. Brooks certainly looked the part of a dominating, #1-ranked wrestler, especially against an overmatched opponent.
The better bets for Iowa wins in the upper weights were always at 197 and 285, but Penn State made sure that did not happen. After a scoreless first period at 197, #4 Max Dean got an escape in the second period and then rode the snot out of #7 Jacob Warner in the third period, earning himself a 2-0 win in the process. A new match, but a familiar outcome for Warner, unfortunately.
At 285, #3 Tony Cassioppi had gotten the better of #2 Greg Kerkvliet in the first two years of their college careers, but Kerkvliet has firmly closed the gap on Cassioppi now. He followed up an 8-5 win over Cassioppi at the All-Star Classic in November with a workmanlike 4-1 win here, using a strong takedown in the first, an escape in the third, and a riding time point to get his victory. Cassioppi wasn't able to do anything against Kerkvliet from neutral or on the mat. They're likely to see each other again at the Big Ten Tournament and/or the NCAA Tournament; hopefully Tony has picked up some new tricks for Kerkvliet by then.
The outcome of this dual didn't surprise me -- Penn State's dominance at the upper weights is so difficult to overcome (indeed, 14 of the Nittany Lions' 23 team points came from the final four matches). Iowa wasn't able to chip away at PSU's advantages at those weights or sweep the other weights. RBY's pin extended the margin of victory for Penn State, but ultimately Iowa needed to find a way to win 5-6 matches in this dual, not four. There were still a few positives for Iowa, though, especially with Murin and Kennedy earning tough wins over good opponents and Woods fending off another top challenger.
Iowa returns to the road to face Minnesota in Minneapolis, MN next Friday, February 3rd at 8 PM CT (BTN). The Gophers are 10-2 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten this season.